Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on May 2nd, 2007 at 12:41 pm
When Portland Mayor Tom Potter decided to cut funding for the Bicycle Master Plan, his office received over 300 calls and emails, the third highest response of any issue during his tenure
Potter recently told KGW-TV that the community’s reaction was “dissappointing,” because, “he feels he has been a big supporter of the cycling community.”
I thought about that quote and began to wonder just how bike-friendly he has been since taking office in 2004.
A Promising Candidate
Before he was elected, Potter was positioned as a bike-friendly candidate and received an endorsement from political action committee Bike Walk Vote. They said,
“We contributed to the winning campaign of Portland mayor-elect Tom Potter, who wants to work closely with the cycling and walking community to improve Portland. Potter promises to use the mayor’s office…to find increased funding for our transportation needs. A rider of a recumbent bike, Potter will bring a history of working with communities and an open mind to the office.”
at the Three Bridges project dedication.
File photo: 10/19/06
First Order of Business: Critical Mass
Soon after he was elected, coming off a major crackdown of Critical Mass by his predecessor Vera Katz, Potter kept up the bike-friendly momentum by riding his recumbent in the February edition of the ride. Over 200 riders showed up and many cyclists rejoiced at the calm created by his presence. Here’s a report from that ride,
“Without the constant threat of harassment, the ride was a lot more fun than it’s been in a long time. Throughout the ride, whoops, yells, cheers, and choruses of bike bells rang out…the shorter leash that the new Mayor keeps them on made this ride hundreds of times more pleasant than it was under Katz.”
His attendance at that ride continues to bring him good vibes. Not a few weeks can go by without me hearing someone bring it up in a meeting.
Unfortunately, the month following Potter’s attendance was marked by heavy ticketing and a strong police presence which led to renewed ill will.
In the meantime, Potter green-lighted monthly meetings between police and the community to discuss Critical Mass and give riders an opportunity to speak directly with the Traffic Division Commander and Lieutenant.
The Mayor also requested a Critical Mass White Paper to assess where things stood. Last I heard, it was being drafted by bike lawyer Mark Ginsberg (a long-time veteran of the ride) and Commissioner Adams’ policy analyst Roland Chlapowski.
An advocate for community policing, Potter has allowed the Bureau to dramatically scale back their presence at Critical Mass and at the request of the community, he has agreed to use more bicycle-mounted officers.
During Potter’s tenture, the Police have patrolled Critical Mass with strict enforcement of all traffic laws. This, combined with their unflinching position to not allow “corking”, has caused the ride to lose its allure, and as a result, many people have stopped showing up.
Critical Mass has remained relatively quiet since Potter took office. Last month, after several months of very low turnout, Portland’s Critical Mass reached its nadir. Just 5 riders showed up. They were outnumbered by cops, two to one.
Law Enforcement Practices Ruffle Feathers
Potter is a former Police Chief and as Mayor, he is in charge of the Police Bureau. During his tenure, the enforcement of bicycle-related laws and the Bureau’s relationship with the bike community has ebbed and flowed.
It’s not clear just how involved Potter is with the day-to-day policies of the Traffic Division (they write over 80% of bicycle tickets), but their enforcement practices remain a touchy issue.
This is in part because of controversial enforcement of fixed-gear bicycles, confusion of some officers about bicycle laws that have resulted in many court cases, and a repeated use of unannounced enforcement actions, like the recent one at Ladds Circle.
Despite concerns over these enforcement actions (or “stings” depending on which side of the ticket you’re on), the Mayor supports the conduct of his officers.
Due to concern over this issue, the BTA met with reps from Potter’s office two weeks ago. I wasn’t there, but I heard that Potter’s staff was amenable and the BTA felt like their points were heard. (In a nutshell, Evan Manvel of the BTA thinks all enforcement actions should be done only at intersections with high crash rates, the Police Bureau agrees, but reserves the right to do them solely in response to complaints.)
And Then Came the Budget
Just a few days after meeting with the BTA to discuss enforcement, we learned that Mayor Potter decided to cut funding for the Bicycle Master Plan Update process. I’ve covered the issue and the fallout extensively already, so I won’t re-hash the whole story.
Mayor Potter insists that his decision on the Bike Master Plan is consistent with his priorities and that due to tight budgets, he would rather focus on safety and maintenance of existing facilities.
But the Mayor’s proposed budget wasn’t all bad news. He did fund some bicycle safety improvements (albeit for 50% less than what was requested) and he chose to fully fund the Safe Routes to School Program to the tune of $250,000.
Potter as a Champion of Bike Issues/Projects
I cover the bike scene closely, and I’ve only seen Mayor Potter at a few events. He helped cut the ribbon on the Three Bridges dedication event and he showed up to talk with kids and address the crowd at a Walk and Bike to School Day event in southeast Portland last October.
I’m also not aware of any bike-friendly appointees or staffers that have made bikes a priority, or of any bike-specific projects or initiatives he has gotten behind (please fill me in if I’m overlooking something).
Before this recent budget fiasco, I have to admit, I did not follow Portland politics (outside of Commissioner Adams’ office) very closely. That being said, my feelings on Potter have been neutral. I don’t see him as a true champion of bicycles, but he’s definitely not anti-bike either (especially compared to former Mayor Katz). Unfortunately, given his decision to dig his heels into not funding the Bicycle Master Plan — which is a relatively low-cost, yet very high value expenditure — and my mixed feelings about the bicycle enforcement issue, it’s hard to think of him as being bike-friendly.
Perhaps, as a result of his recent introduction to the sensible and unified voice of the bike community, we will see Mayor Potter doing more to rally the city behind bikes in the future.
I’d love to know what you think. Can you add experiences, insights, or opinions as to whether or not you feel Potter has been a bike-friendly Mayor?